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Nov 21, 2012

Help me make this Cyd Charisse gown!



Readers, I am officially a man on a mission!  With the holidays upon us, I have decided it's time to make Cathy a really sumptuous evening dress and, after watching the 1948 Esther Williams film, "On An Island With You," I have become obsessed with this Irene Lentz-Gibbons (more commonly known as Irene) dress worn by Cyd Charisse in a tango she performs with Ricardo Montalban.

It's said a picture's worth a thousand words and a YouTube video even more.  Here's the dress in motion on beautiful Cyd Charisse, whose resemblance to my cousin Cathy in both coloring and carriage is remarkable.



I must make this dress, readers.  Here's what I've gleaned so far, and I'm hoping you will help me with anything I've missed.

The slip-style top looks like a simple bodice like one might find on a ballerina's tutu.  In fact, the skirt starts just below the waistline as it does on a tutu.  There's a modified basque shape to the bottom of the bodice.  And spaghetti straps.







The bodice is overlaid with black lace.  Below it is a yoke-like band. Does the bodice have princess seams?  Some tutus do, others do not.  Would the princess seamed version be preferable to avoid deep darts?





The skirt looks like black silk chiffon (a full circle?) over a net crinoline with a very wide, densely gathered tulle ruffle whose color matches the bodice.  If you notice in the film, when Cyd Charisse swirls, the skirt is semi-transparent.  It also looks like the hem of the skirt is ever so slightly longer in back, do you agree?







Even though I already own pattern pieces to make this -- specifically Simplicity 5006 (below), which can be adapted, I think, I went ahead and picked up contemporary Simplicity 2067, which also includes a very late-Forties-ish shrug (worn by the ballerina angel in the main pic), which modest Cathy will likely want to wear when she's not on the dance floor with her Latin lover.  That would look great in black lace over sheer organza.





Friends, what have I missed?

I am very fortunate to own Susan Khalje's wonderful book, "Bridal Couture," which will carry me through the lace placement on the bodice; I've only worked with lace once before, and it was very cheap poly lace that was super-easy to work with.

Do you agree with my assessment of the dress?  What do you think the colored fabric of the bodice should be, and how about the black fabric?  Velvet, silk satin?  Do you know of any other sewing patterns that might be helpful?

Any ideas would be welcome!

Have a great day, everybody!

55 comments:

  1. You ARE thinking of Cathy!

    The lace pattern you choose, and piecing thereof, may make darts, or double bust darts possible (or even French darts - hiding the darts in the yoke-like band!), though a princess seam sounds so much more appropriate for our special lady.

    Ricardo was, as always, flawless.

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  2. Gorgeous dress, and gorgeous Cyd Charisse. It looks to me as if the bodice might be darted (as it is so very close to the body above the bust), but I'd opt for princess seams for ease of fitting; it would also make the line smoother over the bust point and probably easier to apply lace. This bodice must be boned, as well; notice that it never even wrinkles. The skirt is full circle, and is layers of silk tulle, I think; no crinoline moves like that. It would also be possible to compress tulle enough to keep a narrow waist, and I think it's silk instead of cotton because of the way it moves. The top layer might even be silk illusion because it's so incredibly floaty. This will be an awesome project!

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  3. Cyd and Cathy both have awesome legs, so this lovely dress would look amazing on Cathy.

    Princess seams, silk, and use the narrowest boning you can find to reinforce the side and princess seams. Love how the dress floats, so when you buy fabric, swirl it around to ensure that all important float factor.

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  4. I think the skirt might be a circle and a half or double circle, as it isn't straight out when she twirls- there's still a lot of drape. So it probably has side seams. I agree it looks longer in the back, so maybe the back circle has a wider diameter.

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  5. You've got your work cut out for you. There's a little story about one of Cyd's dresses that might give you an idea how much M-G-M put into them. On "The Band Wagon," the producer didn't like the sketch costume designer Mary Ann Nyberg did for the "Dancing in the Dark" number, but he DID like the little $19.95 dress (a shirtwaist with a pleated skirt) Nyberg was wearing that day. He asked her to have it copied for Charisse. By the time the dress was copied, engineered for dancing and fitted three times, it ended up costing $1000 - equal to almost $8300 today. P.S.: Silk. Every time. It's all they used back then, because nothing else would take the dyes, take the light and move the way silk did.

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    Replies
    1. I guess this was before the invention of "Qiana"! LOL

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    2. Peter:

      Poly charmeuse.

      Silk charmeuse.

      I rest my case. ;-)

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  6. It may be possible to manipulate any darts into the horizontal(ish) seam of the yoke piece. The waist line seems to have the same profile as the yoke as well, which supports the idea stated above. A simple way to do that would be to make up a toile with darts, draw the yoke shape on that, and cut the toile on those lines, cutting side as few vertical seams as necessary for the fabric to lie flat (it looks like side seams would be enough).

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  7. Did you notice that the skirt echos the points on the bodice, that it's black down to about 12-18" from the hem inside? I was thinking several layers of gold chiffon at the hem because of the way it floats.
    Heather

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  8. Silk! I think silk would bring the best results as far as weight and movement of the dress. I really think the beauty of the dress and the detailed work would be worth the cost.

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  9. There's something odd happening in the hip area...is there a gathered,swagged, ruched area of black chiffon down to the mid hip? Something is keeping the dress from swirling until mid hipline.
    I think black velvet would be great for the bodice.
    For Cathy, the skirt can be a couple of layers of silk or poly chiffon (cost)...but the under layers can be poly chiffon with washed tulle ruffles...much less money. If you wash nylon tulle in the washing machine, hot water, it gets VERY soft.
    There is a definite change in the fullness of the lower skirt...suggesting additional ruffle.
    The under petticoats could be cut as circles with a BIG ruffle added to each layer.

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    Replies
    1. I'm wrong about the hip area, no swag. I photoshopped the pics to lighten the black area...it just falls from a lowered waist.

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    2. Aha! Washing the tulle is the secret. I was thinking that netting was used on the outer layer of the skirt and tulle underneath.

      This is a fascinating conundrum.

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  10. This skirt looks as if it is about 8 full circles. One from each of the princess panels. I feel the top layer is chiffon, but the yellow under skirts look like tulle to me. This is a lot of fabric. Remember that the thinner fabric is the more you need to get the fullness.

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    Replies
    1. I can't wrap my head around what 8 full circles means. Eight circles (made up of two halves or four quarters) attached side to side?

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  11. It's essentially like making a romantic tutu though tutus are usually built up on the panty and the bodice is a completely separate unit with the two tacked together. I'll have a look at my tutu making books to see if it has any suggests. Not sure how Cathy would feel about wearing a built in panty.

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  12. Definitely a circle skirt shape (which is always the best choice for dancing because it has that stunning twirl) but I also think it's actually made from several gores that are also gathered at the waist because it's very very full. It would not surprise me if there were 10 yards of fabric in this skirt.

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    1. I thought maybe about the gores, too...I think you may be right, just from the sheer volume at the hem.

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    2. Exactly the volume at the hem compared to the the waist made me think that as well and I think the fabric is silk chiffon

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    3. Maybe...I'm still holding out for silk tulle at least in the inner/under layers for the loft and 'spin.' Perhaps chiffon on the top, although I'm still thinking it might be illusion (not so much difference, there...).

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    4. The McCalls 7990/1 ABT tutu pattern from 1982 doesn't have a built in panty for the romantic tutu. Instead there are three pieces of elastic thru the crotch area to hold it all together.
      I'm booked into two Tutu making courses in the new year, so I'll be able to report more on this topic afterwards ;-)

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  13. I have nothing to add about the construction of this dress. I do, however, have to say that the movie clip you provided was illuminating! First, this is THE most beautiful dress I've ever seen. It actually steels the scenes in the dance number. Second, I had no idea Ricardo Montalban could dance--he actually holds his own with Cyd Cherisse (or maybe she is just so good she makes everyone who dances with her look good). Third, Ricardo Montalban got better looking as he got older in my opinion and, in reference to an early blog post, he was also a 'toup' wearer in later years...one of the more successful I think. Thanks for sharing this.

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  14. My screen is to small to spot anything on the video others haven't seen yet, but a sewing friend of mine used to make dresses for dance competitions, so I know a bit about how it is generally done. (And what I can spot on the video looks like what I know.)

    The outerskirt is normally a circle skirt, but not one circle, multipe circles, between three and 12 is possible. That means you need 3, 5, 8,... full circles of fabric, the diameter of the "waist" circle must then be 1/3, 1/5, 1/8,... of the waist measurement. then you cut all circles open at one place and sew them together. So you get a skirt that is exacely waist measurement at the waist, but incredible widht at the hem. You could not lay that skirt flat on the floor, because of all that width. (Not sure if my explanation is understandable?)

    Then there are normally several underskirts that have the same width and the the underskirt that is one beneath the outer layer carries a lot of ruches on the bottom.(Often in several layers also.) Which "lift" the outer skirt.

    The material for that is normally (for competition dresses) a special tulle which is made for exactely that purpose, dance dresses. Normally some poly-fibers. I don't know under which name it is sold in the US, but you should be able to find at least a dealer online that is specialized in material for ballroom dance dresses. There exist several different materials and a bog par of the "art" of making a competition dress is to know which will give you which effect. Without testing all options before. But everything that works will be fine.

    Good luck with that gorgeous project! I wish I had the courage to tackle something like that!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks -- I get what the multiple circles mean now!

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    2. Peter, I sent you an email, because typing in this little box is hard for me to see...I recommend circular ruffles, which is the same as the skirt described above.
      ...much more lively than regular gathered ruffles.

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  15. This dress is GORGEOUS!!!

    Each time I watch the video, I notice something different.

    The lace overlay does not have princess seams. It looks like a small dart in the lace to shape it over the front bodice. The inner structure of the could have princess seaming to make it easy to fit, and the inner structure of the dress definitely needs boning.
    The bodice/skirt seam in the front is shaped to mimic the lines of the lace seam.

    I wanted to say the skirt was two full circles, but I don’t see a vertical seam anywhere in the skirt! I am wondering if the skirt was cut in one piece like a gigantic donut. If the inner circle had a radius of 12”, you would have 75” to gather into the bodice. And if the skirt was 36” long, you would have a skirt about 300” wide at the hem. The fabric would have to be at least 96” wide to cut this. The skirt does look longer in the back.

    The crinoline can be cut as a full circle with a very full ruffle sewn on. The ruffle might be cut as curved pieces for added flare. It looks like a few layers of crinoline and the innermost one seems to be black with a yellow ruffle.

    I can’t wait to see Cathy in this dress!

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  16. I think Natasha is on to something. This is not a dress. It is a ballet costume. It is a silk, boned, body suit with an applied skirt. Like a skating or ballet costume. Exactly like a tutu costume with a long circle skirt. The skirt appears to be georgette, a heavy transparent material. I think a beautiful Sari fabric might just make a lovely dress. One or two should make the skirt. The bodice/body appears to be a matte peau de soie, or probably a matte slipper satin both of which have enough body to hold up to dancing. The hem flounce net looks chartreuse, as the girl in the background is wearing a yellow dress, and Cyd's is a greener yellow. I don't know where you would get silk chartreuse tulle, except in New York. Color matching the hem to the bodice will also be a hunt. This can be made in poly, but knowing the hand of the fabric and how it will work up is key. Washing silk tulle will make it softer washing poly tulle less so. Finally, choosing the black lace for the bodice will be one day's column in itself. Want to know all about lace shopping in New York. What a delicious project. Take your time, I won't get bored!!!

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    Replies
    1. It's possible to dye nylon tulle with Rit dye...that's how I discovered how much it softens when washed. I dyed some tulle ombre navy blue.
      ...so Peter could actually dye the tulle any colour he wanted...

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    2. Yeah the skirt definitely does not attach directly to the bodice edge. I'd probably ruffle to tulle and attach it to a basque and make the bodice separately and have the bodice attached the way you would put a waist stay it. I'm not convinced that it's a circle skirt. The top layer maybe but circle skirts alone won't get that type of fullness. Plus ruffling on is easier to do. You can customize how much your skirt "sticks out" by applying the tulle in different directions. I.e one layer with the seam allowances facing down one with it facing up.

      Going back to the tutu analogy they are made with a separate bodice and then the pancake part made on a panty with basque but you can get rid of the panty part since your not going to be doing that many leaps and bounds I assume. Then there is plate which is the decorative top layer.

      I would say go nylon tulle for the skirt base then something a little nice for the top layer and bodice. tutu dot dom has an excellent selection of tulle but I would probably go for just washing the joanns stuff.

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  17. It's certainly any sewer's business how they choose to interpret this dress, and in what fabrics. But this particular dress would not have had any poly fibers in it, because the first U.S. poly fabric, Terylene, was not produced here until 1950, two years after On An Island With You was made. Even then, poly took off kind of slowly. There was definitely some use of nylon net in the early '50s.

    The skirt's length in back was a New Look touch; it was common for a 3/4 length skirt to dip in back at the hem. And back then, any clothing with any pretensions to quality had a dip in back at the waist. A woman's waist is higher in front than in back, no matter what the makers of today's jeans seem to think.

    P.S.: Am I the only one finding the new captchas extremely difficult to read correctly?

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    1. I can read about every fourth one. They're awful.

      Women's waists may be higher in the front than in the back, but for jeans, those of us with big bums have to have much more length in the back to avoid the waist band dipping down and pulling out in the back. I find commercial jeans all to be too low in the back.

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    2. Re the captchas - I thought my eyes were just getting worse and worse (at 48 I'm definitely noticing "not for the better" changes). Honestly, I put in a comment a few days ago and went thought 4 or 5 before I could make them out.

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    3. Sadly, I am inundated with spam without them them days. :(

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    4. I understand, Peter. It's a necessary evil, but you're worth it!

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  18. Oh, and eljean:

    The costume workrooms at M-G-M, where this picture was made, had facilities equal to - if not better than - anything found in the Parisian couture. They could dye any fabric to any color, they could summon any fabric needed from any fabric house like Rodier or Abraham, and if necessary, they could do custom screen-printing in small batches. Vivien Leigh's famous "barbecue dress" worn in Gone With the Wind was screen-printed (on silk muslin) with a design based on an 1860's fabric sample book found by the research team on the movie. If you want to see the absolute height of what M-G-M was capable of, rent 1938's Marie Antoinette with Norma Shearer sometime. Every bit of the French court costume seen in the film - from wigs to embroideries to panniers to undergarments - was produced in-house. If you're into sewing, and into movies, Marie Antoinette is staggering to see.

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    Replies
    1. Wouldn't that be something to see if we could time travel... I know that sometimes movies costumes today are surprisingly bad. I think of the recent Marie Antoinette movie by Sophia Coppola to compare to the Norma Shearer version. The modern dye in the fabrics was anachronistic for certain in the one pink and purple dress. Have always loved reading about costume workrooms. But making the dress today might needfully be made in poly. If only Peter could summon the fabric. LOL.

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  19. When a MetMuseum curator was aghast at Diana Vreeland's suggestion that they do an exhibition on "Hollywood Fashion", Diana responded: "I have been looking at French couture for 40 years, and I have NEVER seen clothes made like these Hollywood clothes"...apparently one red beaded gown had the beads all shaded along the torso, f'r instance.

    That was a stunning sequence, and a stunning dress!You may have to take out a LOAN if you are thinking of making THAT one in SILK! And I agree: Ricardo Montalban got MUCH better looking with age, and if he was wearing a toupee, he sure had ME fooled! MORE people would have FEWER objections to toupees if all men could wear them as skillfuly as Ricardo!

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    Replies
    1. I work at San Franciso Opera,...Joan Sutherland wore a beaded lavender dress for Merry Widow, that was shaded darker purple on the sides to slim her down. It was made by Barbara Matera in new York.

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  20. Sufiya:

    Esther Williams was married to Montalban for a long time, and in her autobiography, she says he was always extremely concerned about his appearance. If they were going to a party, he drove without his pants on, so that he could slip into them and they would be uncreased when he made his entrance.

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    1. That was Fernando Lamas -- the OTHER Latin lover at MGM. ;)

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    2. Peter:

      You're right - this is what I get for posting while dog-tired at nearly midnight.

      Mea culpa!

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    3. I must be showing my age when the first thing I think of when someone mentions Ricardo Montalban is...


      KHAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    4. Khan? How about Fantasy Island? I can imagine what Peter would like: A well organized fabric store with every imaginable fabric that is easy to find, and where time slows way down so able to make just about everything with a sewing machine that never breaks down.

      Getting back to Cyd Charrise, I wonder how rugged her dresses. Were they made to hold up from countless full dress rehearsals and retakes? Or was it what I've seen some of these gowns made for movies where it may look fantastic but will only last few hours for a photoshoot.

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  21. I don't know if you already have eliminated some of your patterns pictured - but it seems to me that any of them with a skirt that gathers onto the bodice will be a disappointment to you. One of the most flattering things I notice about the dress is how smooth and flat the fabric is at the point between her natural waist on down past the hip line. It's very carefully patterned so that each piece is maybe 1/8th of her circumference at the bust and waist and then flaring out to full fabric width at the hemline, like a multi-gored skirt that happens to begin at the bustline rather than the waist. Some vintage full slips are made with this design. I think the ballet and dancewear commenters have the best idea - to start with a dancewear (or possibly lingerie) pattern. You could consider using a nylon spandex as the base so the fitting wouldn't be such a nightmare in the bust and waist - room for error! One of the advantages of sewing in 2012. What fun!

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    Replies
    1. I have to disagree...I lightened the black with photoshop on picture 12, and I can definitely see gathers. The waistline is shaped and slightly echos the contour of the bottom edge of the lace above.

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  22. A pattern like this...

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-40s-50s-SIMPLICITY-Dress-Slip-Pattern-40-43-Hips-Princess-3352-Lingerie-/190754077671?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item2c69d43be7

    Only take each section and spread it from hip to hemline as far out as you can go and still fit on your fabric width. Then you may need to add gores in between each panel to get the fullness you are looking for.

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  23. Bodice: The lace overlay looks like it was tacked onto the green-ish yellow fabric piece of the bodice because the lace looks like it is almost painted on her bust.

    The underskirt: The contrasting yellow fine tulle fabric looks to be gathered to a short underskirt that looks like it might be black organza. The organza will give the skirt some body to the skirt.

    The Top/Over Skirt: The top/over skirt looks like a chiffon or fine tulle material. I noticed that the bodice hem looks like it may be in a zig-zag shape that echoes the bodice style lines where the lace meets the bodice.

    I hope my observations help! :) The dress will look beautiful, btw!

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  24. I'm seeing some fullness in the black material of the skirt on the outside from waist to about knee length. Maybe someone can see this better or can Photoshop a frame and see what is going on there? To me it looks a a little ribbed - like there are rows of narrow gathered tulle. It seems to stick out from the waist of the dress about 3/4 of an inch maybe. I think it may also mimic the zigzag style lines in bodice and waist areas.

    A.

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    Replies
    1. I saw that too, and commented above, but analyzing the other pics in photoshop, I think I was wrong. The dress seems to be regular fine gathers from the waist to hem. No idea what created that odd look.

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    2. So you did! Thanks for the reply. :)

      A.

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  25. Ok finally looked at the video and it DOES look like there's a matching panty just no panty ruffles but I feel remiss since I overlooked all my years of ballroom dancing. Nowaways we make most of our gowns built on a body suit so I would suggest scouring one of the dancing sites and maybe the crissane gown site.

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  26. What a talented beauty Cyd Charisse was! I think the skirt has gores, but it's hard to see, it's definitely quite close-fitting thru the hip before the fullness starts.

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  27. It has many circles, but how does one keep a narrow waist with all the layers? Also, are those princess seams UNDER the lace, or is the lace also darted? I admire your courage to make such a beautiful gown.

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  28. The bodice may be princess seamed, but I don't see any telltale seams running up the front, which makes me think it's darted instead.

    The only way you would get that kind of drape and mobility in the skirt is silk. Silk chiffon and silk tulle for the underskirt--definitely not organza.

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  29. I know this is a little late but I just got down to this post. I know how you just "hate" patterns especially is they are on sale! There are several patterns here that may fit the bill with an alteration to the straps into a thinner spaghetti style strap.

    http://voguepatterns.mccall.com/vintage-vogue-pages-850.php

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